A Truckload of Resources on the Southernification of Rural America

A bunch of good stuff folks recommended to me

BLOOMSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA, UNITED STATES - 2021/05/29: A pickup truck with a blue lives matter flag and a confederate flag drives during the rally. About 100 self-described patriots marched from Bloomsburg Town Park to Market Square for a pro-freedom rally during the Memorial Day weekend. (Photo by Paul Weaver/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The owner of a pickup truck in Pennsylvania flies flags in support of the United States of America, treason against the United States of America, Southern heritage, white supremacy, and legal impunity for police officers who murder black people. (Credit: Getty Images)

My piece from early last week, “The Density Divide and the Southernification of Rural America,” (here’s the audio version for subscribers) turned out to be a humdinger, traffic-wise. It’s my most popular post yet! I’ve promised a second installment speculating about the mechanisms that might be driving Southernification. I’m hard at work on it. I try to listen when the market speaks up, which is why I’m giving Southernizing rural homogenization a bigger, more central role in my proposal for a book on the density divide.

However, the popularity of the first installment has complicated the delivery of the second installment because readers and Twitter followers recommended a bunch of books and articles. On the one hand, this is awesome. I love it when others do my research for me. On the other hand, it’s cruel to be so helpful in this way to a person like me. I’m now terrified that these generously offered resources contain proof of the idiocy of my own embryonic ideas. So I must check them all out.

Twitter’s great for gleaning recommendations, but not so much when they’re spread out through many threads and hundreds of replies. It’s been tough to track them down just a few days later. I bookmarked a few things when they were rolling in and I’ve been sifting through the threads to retrieve the bibliographic bounty and thought I might as well compile what I can find here, which might be interesting to some of you. I’d like to credit everyone who helped out with a useful suggestion, but I haven’t been able to find the original Tweet for a number of the resources I bookmarked. If it was you please pipe up in the comments.

So here we go! Within a few seconds of sharing the piece on Twitter, more than one person replied with this David Cross monologue, which nails the perplexing ubiquity of the “redneck voice.” (Rated M for adult language)

Most contributions were rather more scholarly.

@HegelwCrmCheese Recommends Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality by Karl W. Deutsch

I found a useful 1964 summary of Deutsch’s theory (including the part @HegelwCrmCheese quotes) by Brian Weinstein in the French journal Cahiers d'Études Africaines :

The first stage in this process, that of physical contact, is called “mobilization.” People who have intensive communications with each other are “mobilized” for shared experiences and are “mobilized” into a current of communications which may eventually change a physical relationship into an affective relationship.

The second stage is a change in the sentiments and attitudes of the people; it is called “assimilation.” People find that, on the basis of shared experience, they communicate increasingly more effectively with members of a particular society than with others. In other, words when the “communication habits” of population become increasingly standardized within a group composed of smaller groups, assimilation of the smaller groups to the larger one is occurring.

If the statistical weight of standardized experience is large and the weight of recalled information within the [smaller] group is relatively small and the statistical weight of feedback information about the [smaller] group’s peculiar responses is likewise small, then the responses of such a group would differ from the responses of other groups in the same situation by a converging series, until the remaining differences might fall below the threshold of political significance This is the process of “assimilation.”

This is pretty much where my head’s been at, I think. But the devil’s in the culturally specific details.

Larry Glickman and number of others pointed me to the work of James N. Gregory, in particular his book, The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America.

I picked it up this weekend from the gorgeous Los Angeles central library and just started to work my way through it. Here’s Felix at the library…

Someone also dropped a link to Gregory’s paper, “Southernizing the American Working Class: Post-war Episodes of Regional and Class Transformation,” but I can’t find who that was now.

Víctor M. Muñiz-Fraticelli recommends Darren Dochuck’s From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism.

Taulby Edmonson suggests The Politics of Rage: George Wallace and the Origins of the New Conservatism by Dan T. Carter, particularly Chapter 11.

Seems relevant! So… we have migration out of the South, the rise of white evangelical Christianity, and the nationalization of Southern racist populism. We’ve also got Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class by Jefferson Cowie, suggested by another now-unknown Twitter soldier. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, in any case.

Except for a few weird obsessions, I’m weak on history, so these are all incredibly useful.

Back on the theoretical side, we have The Rise of the Network Society by Manuel Castells. I can’t find who suggested this one, either. But it looks cool. I think I might have read it when it came out.

Obviously, I won’t be able to work all this into my post speculating about the mechanisms of Southernification, but I’ll see what I can do. Meanwhile, if you’ve got other tips, I’m eager to get them. I’m particularly interested in good stuff on the rise of cable television, right-wing talk radio, the homogenization of rural retail, and why it is that media companies prefer larger more homogenous markets, rather than smaller niche markets, and how they actively shape them. If you know of any, please fire away in the comments!

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